JOHNSON CITY (May 25, 2012) – The skeleton of a large red panda has been uncovered at East Tennessee State University’s Gray Fossil Site, one that is considerably larger than the first red panda skeleton found in 2006.
This second panda is a member of the species Pristinailurus bristoli, which was first described from the Gray Fossil Site in 2004 and received international attention.
“We believe this panda we just found would have been approximately three or four times heavier than red pandas living today,” said Dr. Steven Wallace, associate professor of Geosciences and curator of the ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center.
Using a jacket, researchers lifted the skeleton from the ground on Wednesday (May 23), and took it to the lab where it is being cleaned and prepared. The initial discovery of the skeleton took place several weeks ago, but a large boulder had to be removed in order for the excavation to be completed.
“We still do not know if it is a male or female,” Wallace said. “However, because of the extreme size difference between the first skeleton and this new discovery, it is quite possible that the first is a female, and this one is a male. If true, we will have a better understanding of the natural variation between female and male red pandas of this extinct species.”
Though other panda bones periodically have been found at the Gray Fossil Site, this is only the second skeleton to be discovered.
The ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site returns to a summer schedule on Memorial Day, Monday, May 28. The museum will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visitors can observe the fossil site excavation crew in action Monday through Friday during the summer season. Volunteer opportunities are also available. For more information, call (423) 439-3659.